Paul was a master of identifying with his audience and meeting them where they are in order to lead them to the good news of Jesus Christ. In Acts 13, he is proclaiming the gospel to Jews studying the scriptures and worshipping God on Sabbath. As such, Paul begins in a place they already know. Paul begins in the Old Testament and shows them how the Old Testament prophets and prophecy were pointing forward to Jesus Christ as the coming Messiah. Then he shifts into the direct discussion about forgiveness through Jesus Christ. The people want to hear more. That is a success anytime we share the gospel.
13Now Paul and his companions put out to sea from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia; but John left them and returned to Jerusalem. 14But going on from Perga, they arrived at Pisidian Antioch, and on the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. 15After the reading of the Law and the Prophets the synagogue officials sent to them, saying, “Brethren, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, say it.” 16Paul stood up, and motioning with his hand said,
“Men of Israel, and you who fear God, listen: 17“The God of this people Israel chose our fathers and made the people great during their stay in the land of Egypt, and with an uplifted arm He led them out from it. 18“For a period of about forty years He put up with them in the wilderness. 19“When He had destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan, He distributed their land as an inheritance—all of which took about four hundred and fifty years. 20“After these things He gave them judges until Samuel the prophet. 21“Then they asked for a king, and God gave them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for forty years. 22“After He had removed him, He raised up David to be their king, concerning whom He also testified and said, ‘I HAVE FOUND DAVID the son of Jesse, A MAN AFTER MY HEART, who will do all My will.’ 23“From the descendants of this man, according to promise, God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, 24after John had proclaimed before His coming a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. 25“And while John was completing his course, he kept saying, ‘What do you suppose that I am? I am not He. But behold, one is coming after me the sandals of whose feet I am not worthy to untie.’
26“Brethren, sons of Abraham’s family, and those among you who fear God, to us the message of this salvation has been sent. 27“For those who live in Jerusalem, and their rulers, recognizing neither Him nor the utterances of the prophets which are read every Sabbath, fulfilled these by condemning Him. 28“And though they found no ground for putting Him to death, they asked Pilate that He be executed. 29“When they had carried out all that was written concerning Him, they took Him down from the cross and laid Him in a tomb. 30“But God raised Him from the dead; 31and for many days He appeared to those who came up with Him from Galilee to Jerusalem, the very ones who are now His witnesses to the people. 32“And we preach to you the good news of the promise made to the fathers, 33that God has fulfilled this promise to our children in that He raised up Jesus, as it is also written in the second Psalm, ‘YOU ARE MY SON; TODAY I HAVE BEGOTTEN YOU.’ 34“As for the fact that He raised Him up from the dead, no longer to return to decay, He has spoken in this way: ‘I WILL GIVE YOU THE HOLY and SURE blessings OF DAVID.’ 35“Therefore He also says in another Psalm, ‘YOU WILL NOT ALLOW YOUR HOLY ONE TO UNDERGO DECAY.’ 36“For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep, and was laid among his fathers and underwent decay; 37but He whom God raised did not undergo decay. 38“Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through Him forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, 39and through Him everyone who believes is freed from all things, from which you could not be freed through the Law of Moses. 40“Therefore take heed, so that the thing spoken of in the Prophets may not come upon you:
41‘BEHOLD, YOU SCOFFERS, AND MARVEL, AND PERISH;
FOR I AM ACCOMPLISHING A WORK IN YOUR DAYS,
A WORK WHICH YOU WILL NEVER BELIEVE, THOUGH SOMEONE SHOULD DESCRIBE IT TO YOU.’”
42As Paul and Barnabas were going out, the people kept begging that these things might be spoken to them the next Sabbath. 43Now when the meeting of the synagogue had broken up, many of the Jews and of the God-fearing proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, were urging them to continue in the grace of God.
In a separate example, when proclaiming Jesus to pagans, Paul begins differently to connect with them.
Sermon on Mars Hill
22So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects. 23“For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.’ Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. 24“The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; 25nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; 26and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, 27that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; 28for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’ 29“Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man. 30“Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, 31because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.”
32Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer, but others said, “We shall hear you again concerning this.” 33So Paul went out of their midst. 34But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.
We should also take a lesson from Paul in that we try to understand where people are in their knowledge and acceptance of Christ and let that influence where we begin to tell them about Jesus. If they are devout Jews who understand the Old Testament, then we begin there. If they are lost and hurting in the depths of addiction or selfishness and sin… then begin there rather than with a history of the Old Testament. Our proclamation of the good news of Jesus will be much more effective if we pay close attention to where our audience is rather than just starting from our understanding of the scriptures and God’s plans.
How can you apply this truth in your life? What are some examples of where or with whom you may share the gospel (e.g. work, school, prison ministry, etc.)? How should you adapt your approach in each case?
Have you submitted your life to Jesus Christ? If you die today, do you know for sure that you would be with God in heaven? Learn more about salvation through The Message of the Cross.